By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
It ain't easy. With the two new gaming consoles hitting the market, the older gaming consoles still going strong, and a slew of new games from which to choose, it's a confusing time for even the savviest of gamers. So here's my two cents on what to buy this year.
In a nutshell, here's the skinny on the two hot new consoles from Sony and Nintendo.Nintendo Wii
Out of the box, the $249 Wii doesn't have the PS3's stunning graphics or a Blu-ray DVD player or even a hard drive. But almost everything about Wii is seamless and intuitive, from setting it up to getting online to playing with the wireless controller that lets you do everything from fish to drive a hot-rod truck. It's got wireless abilities, too. Unfortunately, the online store offerings don't offer great variety. But they will.Sony PlayStation 3
No way. You won't be able to get a powerful, $600 PS3 in the stores. Maybe that's just as well. Sure, some games look great, but there are only three brand new ones from Sony itself. And, yes, the Blu-ray DVDs look magnificent even on an old cathode ray TV. But when you get on online, there's only one or two games for you to buy and download. They'll have many more by the middle of next year. By then, Sony will have gotten the bugs out of the system with wireless updates, and you won't have to pay those exorbitant prices on eBay.
Resistance: Fall of Man
image: Courtesy of Sony
Ho-hum? It takes a while for Resistance to get going, but after five hours of play, bam! Go with it for a while and this sci-fi shooter which takes place during World War II shows its mettle and its muscle. With stirring graphics in both foreground and background, and sly Artificial Intelligence from the monsters, it's no wonder that Sony chose this as a launch title. It's definitely worth the money. You can play with dozens of people online, too, unless you think two's a crowd.NBA 2K7 (2K Games, Everyone)
Slam, dunk, from downtown. Currently, it's the superstar of the NBA games. With stunning graphics that let you see players sweat and seamless gameplay, too, your jaw will go slack in wonder when you play this on an HDTV. With many game modes and tons of player moves, you'll be playing this one right through May. And so will the NBA players themselves after practice. It's that good.
PlayStation 2 SINGSTAR ROCKS! (Sony, Everyone)
It's fun even for the tone deaf. Here's a karaoke-style singing game with real songs performed by the actual artists, and cool music videos, too. With the 30-song, eclectic mix of old school Elton John and Aretha Franklin along with current cranky sensations like the White Stripes, you get two microphones to duel it out. You'll wish there were more songs, but you'll have enough entertainment with what there is, especially at a holiday party. And you'll finally know all the lyrics to "Blue Orchid" and "Rocket Man." GUITAR HERO II (Red Octane, Teen)
Shred and shred alike. Last year's big music game is back with 55 songs (not by original artists) and new bells and whistles, like being able to compete while playing complicated bass riffs in addition to guitar solos. A practice mode gets your sloppy fingers into perfect fret-picking shape. You'll love the lascivious red guitar/controller, too.THRILLVILLE (LucasArts, Everyone)
Don't eat that weenie before you get on the coaster. With this user-friendly theme park simulation, you've got it all. Not only can you make your own rides like roller coasters, you can play minigames that are based on classic games from the past. Plus, you can walk through your lands of wonder and talk to guests. Yeh, you gotta talk to the rabble. Their opinions help you to improve your park.
Nintendo WiiWII SPORTS (Nintendo, Everyone)
Oh, my aching arm. The most addicting game for the Wii is included with every system. Using the Wii's gyroscopic controller as a bat, a bowling ball, a tennis racket and more, you'll have a ton of enjoyment while playing against the system or when playing with friends. It's kind of like the old Lays chip commercial. Bet you can't play just one.
The Legend Of Zelda Twilight Princess
image: Courtesy of Nintendo
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA TWILIGHT PRINCESS (Nintendo, Teen)
Talk about feeling inside the game. The beauty, humor, and action in the new Zelda not only show the system's versatility and graphical power. They prove that you can have a family-oriented game with a gripping story based in video game myth. Plus, riding a horse as hero Link actually feels like clip-clopping along on a real steed.MADDEN 07(Electronic Arts, Everyone)
Madden is new all over again with the Wii. With an in-game tutorial that shows you how to pass, block, juke, spin, and more with the new Wii controller, you'll feel more a part of the gridiron action than ever. However, with all that flicking of the wrist to throw and block, if you're prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, you'll aggravate it with Madden. Note: Because of this, I suggest not playing for more than a 20 minutes at a time. After an hour, I felt like a 300-pound linebacker sat on my wrist.
You think Meerkat Manor is cute on Animal Planet? Well, hands down, LocoRoco is the simplest, cutest game ever made for the PSP, maybe the cutest pop culture thing this year. And that's saying a lot. You only use two buttons to guide your hungry blobs called LocoRoco through environments so artistically brilliant, you'll get that teenage sense of wonder all over againminus the zits.GITAROO-MAN LIVES (KOEI, Everyone)
You, yes you, can play a guitar with your PSP. Not only that, you'll be whisked into a sci-fi fantasy world in which you defend the universe by playing that axe. You can even do duets with pals wirelessly with the PSP. With anime-inspired graphics and virtual guitar-playing that's pretty darn hard, this one gives Guitar Hero II a run for its money. Play really well and you'll vanquish your strange-looking enemies. No, not Bush and Cheney.
This redone Japanese version of an early Final Fantasy role playing game has been eagerly awaited on these shores. It's a true old school offering that moves slowly compared to today's RPGs. But it does make use of the DS' touchscreen. Complex and difficult, it's full of the stunning beauty and blustery magic that you'd expect from a "Final Fantasy" game.
Yoshi's Island DS
image: Courtesy of Nintendo
Yoshi for the DS is full of lush artwork that spans two screens and features the ever cute Baby Mario, Baby Wario, and Baby Peach. You'll hit objects on the top screen by using the touch screen below. The coolest thing? Baby Peach gives fictional dinosaur Yoshi the ability to fly. I wonder if Baby Suri gives you the ability to have famous parents who believe in a sci-fi religion? Sorry, sometime I mix my media.
Until we get out of Iraq, I won't be the biggest fan of the shooting game, even though it's fantasy. Still, Rainbow Six: Vegas is the best Tom Clancy game ever made. If you're a fan of stealth, teamwork, and wild but thougtful multiplayer modes in your shooters, this one can't be beat. The eye-popping graphics don't hurt, either. And the opening scene on the helicopter must be inspired by Robert Duvall's whirlybird romp before hitting the beach in Apocalypse Now.
KidsSPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS CREATURE FROM THE KRUSTY KRAB (Nintendo Wii, THQ, Everyone)
Scream it loud: SpongeBob SquarePants! This goofy, funny platformer game lets you use the Wii's controller to do everything from open doors to race cars and fly spaceships. Graphically, it's not all that, but if your kids want to laugh and hang with Bob and the gang, the Wii version of the game is the one to get.
VIVA PINATA (Xbox 360, Everyone)Viva La Revolucionin gaming, that is. This graphically lurid game, based on the kids' TV series featuring lovable, living piñatas, is a joy to behold. And if you want to play it at a deeper level with a lot of strategy, it's a compelling game for adults, too. It's part The Sims and part Animal Crossing. If the peacock-colorful graphics don't get you, the endearing, sometimes intense, gameplay will. Lure the piñatas to your garden, breed them, or just watch them. You're the mad scientist god-like creature having all the good fun. RAYMAN RAVING RABBIDS (Wii)
These crazy rabbits look better than Bugs Bunny ever did, even in Michael Jordan's Space Jam. In fact, they look like they could star in their own Pixar movie. The raving ones have all they can handle right now, though. That's because even though they've captured Rayman, you (as Rayman) can beat this fun collection of mini games and try to free our hero. By using Wii controller like a lasso, you can even swing a cow over your head and loft the mooing beast 50 yards.SUPER MONKEY BALL BANANA BLITZ (Wii, Sega, Everyone)
It's all about the balance. The Super Monkey Ball franchise has always been a kind of animated 3D version of the old wooden tilt toy, Labyrinth. Now, with the wireless controller, this balancing game, which starts out easy and gets increasingly harder, is more fun than ever. Add to this the affable chimpanzee characters and you'll have more fun than a barrelful of monkeys. Well, a Playmate cooler-full, anyway.
Movie and TV Based Games
image: Courtesy of Midway
Dance, baby, dance. The ultra-adorable penguin movie with the strangely twisting plot comes to the Wii with the lovable Mumble as the star. In a game that's not as dark as the movie, you'll belly slide, dance, and swim your way through all sorts of slippery mayhem in Antarctica's wondrous ice and snow.
Based on the 2003 book by then 15-year-old Chris Paolini, the game follows the plot of the upcoming December movie (this kid is going to be rich, if he isn't already). In a world full of fantasy and ride-able dragons, you're placed smack dab in the middle of a war between strange races of beings. While the game is available in all formats, I'd buy the Xbox 360 version because it has some extra levels and better graphics. The DS version, with its magical small screen artwork and touch screen abilities, is also a winner.DRAGONBALL Z BUKOKAI TENKAICHI(Wii, Atari, Teen)
Magical fight makes right. The Dragonball Z cartoon franchise has been around since 1989, and this may be the most immersive, complex game ever made for Son Goku and his troupe of universe defenders. With 120 characters and story mode that lasts 60 hours, you'll find this is worth your time and your money. But you won't be able to keep the characters' names straight, even if you've played Nintendo's brain games.
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